|[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]
Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 15, 2010
No absentee votes for Westerlo School sale
By Zach Simeone
WESTERLO Absentee ballots are off the table in the special election on the purchase of the old Westerlo School, and other steps are being taken as voting day approaches.
The town board said “no” to absentees in a split vote at its April 6 meeting, with Councilman R. Gregory Zeh casting the only vote in favor.
“I say, ‘Do it. Roll the dice,’” Zeh said before the motion to allow absentee ballots was voted down.
On May 26, between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., Westerlo residents will be able to vote on whether or not the town should purchase the Westerlo School from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District for $145,000. The school would be renovated and turned into the new town hall.
But, between now and then, the town board will hold four workshops: on April 22, to perform a needs assessment; on April 29, to determine the cost of needed repairs in the school; on May 6, to determine the annual expenses of operating the new town hall; and on May 13, to discuss its findings.
On Feb. 2, the town board offered to purchase the school from BKW so it could be converted into a new town hall. Not two weeks later, the BKW School Board voted unanimously to sell the building to the town. Then, at a March 2 town board meeting in Westerlo, a petition was presented, calling for a public vote on the purchase of the building; the audience was divided over support of the purchase.
State Assemblyman John McEneny, a Democrat who represents the Hilltowns, told The Enterprise last month that he approved a $125,000 “discretionary capital grant for community enhancement” to the town for the purchase of the Westerlo School as its new town hall.
The town board voted at its April 6 meeting to authorize Aline Galgay, the town attorney, to begin a title insurance process for the school prior to the special election if necessary.
“The issue, as I understand it, is that we had a tight turnaround time frame between the special election, and when school board was looking for closing to take place,” Zeh told The Enterprise this week. The deadline for closing on the deal with BKW is June 30. “Our attorney said that she wasn’t sure how long it would take to do a title insurance search, or whether it could be done within that time frame. If we couldn’t, then we’d have to start the search before the election.”
Also at last week’s meeting, the board voted in favor of a one-year bond anticipation note with the Bank of Coxsackie, at an interest rate of 1.6 percent, in anticipation of the grant money to cover the cost of the Westerlo School.
Before the 4-to-1 vote against having absentee ballots in the May 26 election, the board and residents had a brief discussion on the pros and cons of allowing absentees to cast their votes.
“You are not required to do absentee ballots unless you do personal registration,” Galgay told the board. She quoted the law for the crowd: “Absentee ballots must be provided where personal registration is required.” So, absentee ballots are not mandated in this special election.
Galgay said later, “We’re going to have to dedicate someone who is going to put it together; we’re going to actually have to draft it, print it, mail it; I mean, it’s all got to be done internally.”
The problem, she went on, is that “absentee ballots have to be generated by the town, so there is one more thing that the town has to generate. The board of elections will not generate those absentee ballots for us,” she said.
“Well,” replied Councilman Robert Snyder, “I think we can forget about that.”
Ned Stevens, a planning board member, asked, “What about the veterans that are serving the country right now? I don’t know who we have for veterans in the town of Westerlo…but, do they have a right to vote on this, being that they’re serving in the military now, or are they going to get excluded from this election?”
Amid the clamor that followed, Supervisor Richard Rapp said, “It’s a lot of work, I’ll tell you that.”
One audience member added that it would add yet another expense to the process.
“This is why we had a town board elected to handle this situation,” Stevens replied. “But it was decided among a small group that we needed to have an election on it. If we’re going to have an election, I want to be fair to everybody that’s a member of the town of Westerlo.”
And absentee votes come not only from soldiers overseas, but from people in the hospital, Galgay said.
“He is right,” said Debbie Theiss-Mackey, a longtime volunteer in town, of Stevens. “No matter how many people put together the petition, it determined that we have to follow the petition now, which means that everybody who lives in the town of Westerlo has a right to put their vote in. So now, even if it does cost us money, it just doesn’t seem fair if we don’t allow that.”
Zeh and Galgay then discussed what they considered a risk in having absentee ballots in this election: Some Westerlo voters may not have had the opportunity to be added to the New York State Board of Elections’s list of certified absentee voters, so some residents who are unable to make it to Town Hall on Election Day may not be able to cast an absentee vote.
“Couldn’t you use the general list for all of us to vote, that are here?” Theiss-Mackey asked. “Couldn’t you take the absentee ballot and use it against that list as well?”
“Yes,” Zeh responded, “but the risk would be that, if somebody filed to vote, and is not showing up on that list because the board of elections hasn’t updated their records, and we deny that person the ability to vote, then they could sue us and say they didn’t get to have a say.”
There was also a question from an audience member of how long after the election it would take to count the absentee votes, and whether or not they could be tallied in time to meet the June 30 closing deadline; no one at the meeting knew the answer.
“Seems like an awful lot of work and an awful lot of expense,” one audience member said.
On the other hand, Theiss-Mackey replied, “It could be a lot of money if somebody declares it’s unfair, too.”
In other business at its April 6 meeting, the town board:
Heard from Supervisor Rapp that the town got $8,300 from insurance after a roof at the transfer station collapsed under the heavy, wet snow that blanketed the Hilltowns in February and caused several other roofs to cave in;
Announced that May 1 is Household Hazardous Waste Day;
Announced that, beginning May 15, residents can set brush fires on their properties, within a 4-by-4-foot space, as long as the fire contains only brush from the property on which it burns; and
Discussed ways of remedying safety concerns surrounding the fencing around the baseball field at town park, where teams from all four of the Hilltowns play. Some urged the board to find out if insurance would cover the cost of repairing the fence, others proposed taking down the timeworn portions of the fence.